South Korean prosecutors indicted a Korean American and four others on Friday for allegedly spying for North Korea in what officials dubbed the biggest spy case since the beginning of reconciliation between the two Koreas.
Jang Min-ho, the 44-year-old naturalized Korean American whose English name is Michael Jang, was charged with setting up the spy ring in 2002 at the instruction of the communist regime and passing secret information to the North.
The four other South Koreans were indicted on similar charges. They include two former and incumbent officials of South Korea's left-leaning opposition Democratic Labor Party.
"The suspects spied in an organized way after receiving instructions from North Korea," said Ahn Chang-ho, a senior prosecutor at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office. "This is the biggest spy case" since a breakthrough 2000 summit between the two countries' leaders, he said.
Ahn said the suspects passed "national secrets" to North Korea dozens of times, including the status of a realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea and the personal and ideological backgrounds of hundreds of politicians.
Prosecutors said Jang met North Korean agents at least seven times in China and in Thailand and had received a total of US$16,500 (Ђ12,409) in operational funds from the North since 1989, reports AP.
All five have been in custody since their arrests in October.
The scandal was a blow to the minor opposition party and deepened its pro-North Korea image. The party says the charges against its former and incumbent officials are groundless.
The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. But their relations made strides after the 2000 summit.
About 29,500 American troops are stationed in the South as a deterrent against threats from the North.